Zoe Saldana & Michelle Rodriguez Dazzle at the NHMC Impact Awards

The Oscars and Independent Spirits weren’t the only award ceremonies in Hollywood this weekend! The National Hispanic Media Coalition celebrated Latino talent at its 14th annual Impact Awards Gala, hosted by Michelle Rodriguez and Mario Lopez, with Zoe Saldana, producer director Robert Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara among the honorees.

Vergara didn’t show, but the red carpet was still packed with Latina beauties.  Saldana, dressed head-to-toe in Valentino, Aimee Garcia, in a shimmery black strapless Kimberly Ovitz mini and Christian Louboutin heels, and co-host Rodriguez, in a sparkly black sequined Marc Bouwer gown, all looked gorgeous.

“I’ve never had a problem being Latina in the industry, ever. I’ve never had any problems because of my last name. It’s because of the way I carry myself,” said Rodriguez, who credited her stylist for her glam get-up, a switch from the tough-chick outfits we usually see her wear in movies like Avatar and the upcoming Battle: Los Angeles, in which she plays an Air Force tech sergeant. You can also find Michelle in Blacktino and Underground Comedy—both in theaters later this year. “When it comes to Latino culture, I think it’s about passion and fire,” she says. “I really appreciate that about it.”

Saldana, honored for Outstanding Performance in a Motion Picture for Avatar, also praised her heritage. “We come from such an amazing culture, and yes, we’ve had impediments but name me a culture that doesn’t have impediments,” she said, naming Rita Moreno, Raquel Welch and Rita Hayworth as women who inspired her and paved the way. Sequels to Avatar and Star Trek are in her future, as is the completed Colombiana, about a woman who witnesses the murder of her parents and becomes an assassin (in theaters September 2).

Extra host Mario Lopez left five-month-old daughter Gia Francesca with her grandmother to attend the festivities, and he grinned widely when we asked him about fatherhood. “The best part is the mornings when I get to see her and play with her and squeeze her, and coming home, no matter what time of day,” he said, offering this advice to new parents: “Come from a place of love and you can’t go wrong.”

For Aimee Garcia, now recurring on ABC’s jungle medicine series Off the Map, being Latin American and bilingual is “the best of both worlds,” she said, admitting to “a girl crush on some of the other Latinas here. I love Zoe, she’s so balletic and graceful and beautiful, and Michelle, she can throw a punch, I wouldn’t want to be on her bad side!” she laughed. Wearing Kiehl’s lip balm in place of lipstick, she attributed her glowing skin to steaming her face once a week. “It really opens up your pores,” said Garcia, who ends her Off the Map run this week and next stars in Go For It, a hip-hop take on Flashdance in which she plays the lead (May 13). “I do all my own dancing,” she said.

On hand to accept the Visionary Impact award for a body of work that started with El Mariachi and includes Desperado, Sin City, the Spy Kids movies and Machete, Robert Rodriguez is developing a sequel to Machete and has Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World due out in August. “There are new kids in it, and Jessica Alba is the ultimate badass mom. There are a lot of surprises,” he said, adding that original Kids Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara turn up, “all grown up.”  The father of four sons and a daughter, Rodriguez says at least one of his offspring wants to follow in his moviemaking footsteps. “Racer, the one who wrote Shark Boy and Lava Girl, is still really interested.” 

“It’s awesome, unbelievable,” said Danny Trejo about his Machete honor, “but I think the whole cast should have gotten it.” He’s come a long way from playing “Villan #1 or Inmate #1,” with family-friendly films like The Muppets and Spy Kids 4 in his future, in addition to A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (he’s Harold’s father-in-law), and a TV pilot called Finders (he plays a bishop). An ex-con and former drug addict, he attributes his life turnaround to “faith, not using drugs, not drinking, giving back. I go to high schools and talk to the kids all the time.”

Cheech Marin, there to present Robert Rodriguez’s award, has a wide range of forthcoming projects. Having recurred as a medicine man on Off the Map (he expects to return if the show is picked up), will voice the character of low rider Ramon in Cars 2, due out in June, may be doing an animated series based on his children’s book Cheech the School Bus Driver, plans to direct a film in May, and shot a TV pilot called Outnumbered, a comedy about overwhelmed parents, with Ana Ortiz. “I play her father,” he said.